Problems of 2 NZEF
CHAPTER 5 — Towards Rome
AS soon as the Division had settled down in Maadi, all concerned had to concentrate on the furlough scheme without delay. The broad idea was to release as many of the first three echelons as could be spared and for whom shipping was available; but the governing factor was to be the efficiency of the force. A certain degree of dislocation was inevitable, the permissible degree being comparatively high in view of the long battle experience of the Division and the consequent high standard of training. In the end it was possible for the GOC to agree to the release of some 6000 all ranks, the battle-worthiness of the Division still remaining at a good level.
The conferences and discussions that followed within the force, and the cables that passed between Headquarters and New Zealand, had all to be concentrated into a few days, everyone working at the greatest pressure. The New Zealand Government had already made preliminary arrangements with the United Kingdom Government about shipping, so that when a suitable vessel, the Nieuw Amsterdam, was offered it had to be accepted without hesitation, although its arrival was sooner than we had expected, and much sooner than we would have preferred. The arrangements for the selection of the men and, even more difficult, for the selection of those officers and NCOs who could be spared, meant round-the-clock working for the staff concerned.
The instructions for this scheme, the code-name for which was Ruapehu, were issued piecemeal as fast as some aspect or aspects could be determined, which made it a scrappy business. Had we waited, however, until all the points had been determined before issuing any instructions, the scheme would never have commenced at all. There were seventeen instructions altogether, one being given in Appendix VII.
The Division did not return to Maadi until the end of May, and the draft sailed for New Zealand on 15 June. The staff concerned with making the arrangements may be pardoned for following up the embarkation with a sigh of relief and a mild celebration.
The code-name for the first draft had been taken from a notable geographical feature in the North Island bearing a Maori name. For the next following draft we intended to turn to the South Island, and in fact the name chosen was Wakatipu. Thereafter we page 65 alternated between the two islands, Taupo, Kaikoura, Tongariro, and Hawea following in due course.
For some time past the New Zealand Government had been in consultation with the United Kingdom Government about the future movements of the Division, there being in New Zealand a feeling that it should now come back to join in the defence of the Pacific. Not for the first nor yet the last time, the Government, supported by parliament, took a broad view and decided that the Expeditionary Force should stay in the Mediterranean. The appreciation of this decision shown by the United Kingdom Government spread to the various headquarters in the area, and explained in part why in the long run they were always so forbearing of our requests and our, to them, unusual and irritating ways.
We were told of this decision towards the end of May; but at the same time were told of the manpower situation in New Zealand, which was causing some concern. It was beginning to be doubtful if men could be found to keep the force at its existing figure. This brought up the position of the non-divisional engineers, some units of which were in any case severely hit by the furlough scheme. Practically all the companies had come with the first three echelons, had had few casualties and now found that up to 90 per cent of their strength was due for relief. The Government decided the fate of the Railway Operating Group out of hand by directing that it should be returned complete, so that the personnel could be used for work on the railways in New Zealand. Of the remaining units, some would have to be broken up almost at once. The rest would continue working for the present, but would receive no more reinforcements and might later have to be ‘cannibalised’ to help the Division. Scant attention was paid in these decisions to the needs of GHQ, which had wryly to accept what we told it, and had no chance to make any plea for the full retention of the units. However, the North African campaign was over. What the future held no one knew for certain, but probably the arrival of United States troops would compensate for the withdrawal of ours.
In view of what the Government had said about manpower, we made an estimate of the degree to which we could dilute the strength of our force with women. Many of the tasks in Maadi Camp, for instance, could be undertaken by women, who for some duties would be better than men. Clerical work of all kinds was an obvious example. Our estimate was that we could take 900 women, so replacing 700 men, including almost the whole staff of Second Echelon.
Altogether the matters being discussed with New Zealand were so many and of such importance that it was decided that the GOC should make a hurried trip to New Zealand and carry on the dis- page 66 cussions on the spot. He left with one staff officer on 6 June, as soon as the broad outlines of the furlough scheme were settled, and before the draft sailed.
On 11 June, in the middle of the turmoil surrounding the assembly of the furlough draft, the 9th Reinforcements arrived – not a big draft but, as always, very welcome. They could not be accommodated initially in Maadi Camp owing to the Division being there, but went to Puttick Camp on the other side of Cairo.
In May on the way back from Tunisia some soldiers of the Division took part in a bad case of rape, one of the worst offences of any kind that occurred during the war. The place was in Tripolitania, many hundreds of miles from Maadi. The offence was not reported to us until the Division had arrived in Maadi, but it was too bad to ignore. The difficulties of the case were great, and will be mentioned in Chapter 15. It is sufficient to say here that we had to send a regular convoy of vehicles and troops all the way back to Tripolitania, not only once but two or three times. The offenders were found and duly punished by court martial.
The furlough scheme added to the complications of the everlasting marriage problem, in that many husbands wanted their wives to go back with them on the same vessel – an impossibility, as the vessel was in no way fitted to carry wives. We had to allow some husbands to contract out of the scheme so that they could stay with their wives. The number of married personnel was not great, but they caused troubles out of all proportion to their numbers.
Nothing daunted by the previous refusal earlier in the year, GHQ asked us again to form a parachute unit, but was told once and for all that we could form no more units unless for the immediate advantage of our own Division. As far as GHQ Middle East was concerned, that was its last request.
While the bulk of the men selected for furlough had gone back on the Nieuw Amsterdam, there were still odd parties whose release had been delayed one way or another, and whom we wished to get back at once. The New Zealand Government, during discussions about this, put some definite restrictions on the number of men who would be allowed to travel on unescorted vessels. If the vessel were under 15 knots in speed, the maximum draft was to be 25; if over 15 knots unescorted, then 100 could go. If a party was over these numbers, then the vessels must have an escort. The reasons were good, and we could not cavil at the decision; but it did slow up the return to New Zealand of small parties for the rest of the war.
At the end of June there was a marked lull in all our activities, for which everyone was thankful. It had been a strenuous thirty days.
During July the usual number of odd matters had to be dealt with. We had discussions with GHQ about what would happen if page 67 Italy were to surrender, so releasing large numbers of prisoners of war. We finally decided that practically all the clothing for nurses and other women's services would have to be issued. We asked Army Headquarters to take action directed towards introducing new punishments for officers, including reduction in rank or to the ranks. We were told that the airgraph service had been speeded up by going via Ceylon and Australia, a new long-distance flight having started from Colombo to Perth. On the whole, however, July was a month of suspended animation, while we awaited the return of the GOC. He arrived back on the 31st after a strenuous trip.
The decision was then taken to disband all the remaining non-divisional units, the men not qualified for furlough being absorbed into the Division. Of the officers, some volunteered to join divisional units, and some accepted appointments with British units in the area or in India. The disbandment started in August, but was not fully effective for three months thereafter.
The next furlough draft (Wakatipu), comprising in the main the balance of the first three echelons, started assembling in August. Hopes were high that it would be sailing soon; but as it happened, owing to shortage of shipping, it was January 1944 before it sailed, a delay of over four months. We had to take some special steps to keep up the morale of this party.
The 10th Reinforcements arrived on 18 August 1943, only two months after the ninths. The situation was now fully restored, the Division was up to establishment again, and satisfactory numbers of reinforcements were in the depots. With the 10th Reinforcements there arrived a number of men who had been officers in New Zealand and who had had to revert to the ranks when proceeding overseas to the Mediterranean. They caused complications. On the one hand the GOC wished to be fair to them and restore their rank as soon as was reasonable; but on the other hand the existing and likely vacancies were not numerous enough to make this possible for many months.
During September 1943 the Division moved out of Maadi into a training area in the desert not far west of Alexandria and all the depots came back to Maadi, which once more became our main base camp. The Division was soon placed under orders to move to Italy, the move to take place in November, but this was then speeded up to take place in October. Past experience had told us what steps to take this time. Divisional Headquarters established a special Administrative Post to stay in Egypt at the despatching end until the move was complete. Plans were prepared for an advanced base to be established in Italy as soon as the first elements of the Division arrived there. It appeared that the Division was moving to Europe permanently, a state of affairs that would of necessity cause some page 68 changes further back, of which the formation of an advanced base would be only the beginning. For the moment no further action was taken; but future possibilities were much in our minds.
During September voting took place throughout the force for the General Election in New Zealand. An officer to conduct the election had arrived with the 10th Reinforcements. There was some confusion over election manifestoes, but luckily the whole force was inactive and so available to vote.
As part of the reduction in New Zealand's overseas commitments the Forestry Group in the United Kingdom had been reduced from three companies to one. This company was moved to the Mediterranean and arrived in Algeria in September. As it had been arranged that it should join 2 NZEF and cease to be under the control of the military authorities in England, a staff officer from Headquarters visited it soon after its arrival, so as to establish a link between the company and its new controlling authority. Among other things it was arranged that the company should get its share at once of our various welfare activities.
The Division moved to Italy in the first half of October. We already had a port detachment at Alexandria, the port of embarkation, and now established one at Taranto, the port of disembarkation. Advanced Base moved about the same time and was functioning between Taranto and Bari before the end of the month. Advanced offices were opened there for postal, pay, records and so on. The hospital from Tripoli moved at once – this time with the approval of the British authorities – and was ready in Italy as soon as the first New Zealand casualties occurred.
At an early stage slight difficulties arose with the new GHQ under whose orders we came. We had left our old friends, General Headquarters, Middle East, and were now under General Headquarters, Central Mediterranean Force (CMF), which meant that we had to start afresh to assert our degree of self-containment as a small national army. The new GHQ had been prepared for a fighting division, but had not appreciated that the Division had quite an important tail. The various administrative staff officers of HQ 2 NZEF, including OICA, had to make several trips to advanced GHQ at Naples, and repeated visits to the local British area commander, before the position was satisfactory.
Concurrently with the move of the Division to Italy, we had co-operated with the new GHQ by setting up our own section of the general organisation formed to receive returned, or rather liberated, prisoners of war. Owing to the rapid reaction of the Germans to the Italian armistice, the numbers were not as great as had been hoped. Luckily, by the time we wanted our personnel for other duties the rush was over. The continuing problem of the page 69 steady trickle of escaped prisoners of war that reached the Allied lines in the next year or so was solved by our later forming a permanent Prisoner-of-War Repatriation Unit, which, while working within the Allied framework, handled our own escapees.
Gradually the outline of an administrative layout in Italy was emerging. The problem was what to do with all our installations and units in Egypt, headed by HQ 2 NZEF. It was accepted as definite that no matter what moves the Division might make, it would not be coming back to Egypt, so that a case could be made out for closing down in Egypt completely. Thought was given to this during September and October, and all the pros and cons set out; but it was then thought better to delay further action until the position in Italy was a little clearer. A decision would have to be made before long, for on it depended the degree of work to be carried out at Advanced Base.
Meanwhile, in New Zealand there had been difficulties over the return to the Mediterranean of the first furlough draft. The details are not the concern of this volume; but it appeared that there was a strong feeling in the country that the draft had done their bit, and that their places should be taken by younger and fresher men. At first it was only the married men who were deleted officially from the returning party; but little by little the numbers were further reduced, either by official action or by passive resistance. In the end only a small part of the draft ever did come back to us. Towards the end of the year (1943) many cables passed between the Government and the GOC on the question of future drafts, as the long-term calculations made while the COC was in New Zealand had now been nullified. The Government did its best to compensate for the deficiency by increasing later reinforcement drafts; but for the first time our reinforcement position became erratic, and we had to become accustomed to a sort of hand-to-mouth existence. It took some time for both the Government and the Expeditionary Force to admit that ‘furlough’ was a misnomer, and that once men returned to New Zealand on leave they were gone from the Expeditionary Force for good. The effect on the Division was not so great as might have been expected, for with few exceptions, and those for good reasons, all the officers came back to us, and a good part of the NCOs also.
In October and November there took place a small operation in the Dodecanese Islands in which the New Zealand portion of the Long Range Desert Group took part, landing on the island of Leros. The operations were failures, and as it happened attracted the attention of the press to an exceptional degree. From the New Zealand angle, it was unfortunate that the troops had been committed to the operation without the knowledge of either the New Zealand page 70 Government or the GOC. Previously the unit's activities had taken place in the same theatre of war as the Division's, and the Government was always conscious that at any one moment the unit might be in action; but now the Division had gone to Italy, and the Aegean islands were a new theatre of war. The news that New Zealand troops were there at all gave the country a shock, intensified and indeed embittered by the conduct of the operation, which was severely criticised in the British press. The New Zealand Government showed great annoyance and expressed its views forcibly to the United Kingdom Government. The outcome was that the troops who survived the operation were returned to 2 NZEF, the New Zealand portion of the Long Range Desert Group was disbanded and the troops were absorbed into the Division. They came back to us in December.
In one class of reinforcements, namely doctors and dentists, New Zealand was finding it most difficult to keep up the supply. There is no doubt that the service we received overseas from these two professional classes was exceptionally high, much higher than with any other British or Dominion troops; but the time had now come when we had to accept a slight reduction in the service. Incidentally, we were under long-sustained pressure from New Zealand to reduce the number of our hospitals, or at least of our hospital beds. While possibly on a pure statistical basis we erred slightly on the side of being over-hospitalised, the increasing length of our lines of communication, and the rule that New Zealanders must always have one of their own hospitals within reach, justified our retaining the full number.
By the end of November the decision had been made that HQ 2 NZEF would move to Italy, together with nearly all the NZEF ‘controls’ – medical, chaplains, pay, legal and so on. For reasons that will be explained in Chapter 7, it would have been impossible for HQ 2 NZEF to have carried on in Egypt.
About this move we were quite clear and firm. The position about Maadi Camp was not so clear. The pros and cons of moving it to Italy will be given in Chapter 9. Here it will be enough to say that we would always need a transit camp in Egypt, and that the facilities in Maadi for training and looking after large numbers of men were unrivalled and could never be equalled in Italy within reasonable time. So it was decided to retain Maadi and to keep to a minimum the organisation in Advanced Base, even though we could not avoid making the new camp a copy, albeit a small one, of the larger establishment in Egypt.
It remained to be decided where Headquarters was to be located. The ideal location for a headquarters such as this is discussed in Chapter 7; but it may be said now that when it proposes to move page 71 forward, Headquarters should go as far forward as it can, allowing for its not being a fighting headquarters. Otherwise the move may not be worth while. We had adhered to this rule in part by moving to Italy, but departed – or were forced to depart – from the rule as far as exact location in Italy was concerned. We had some trouble with the British authorities in finding a place at all, and it is true that the areas north-west of Bari were congested with Allied troops, especially the Allied Strategic Air Force. All the same, we should have been less hasty in accepting the site we did, which was just clear of Bari in a small and pleasant town on the coast called Santo Spirito. It was really too far back, as we were to find.
Concurrently with the arrival of the Division in Italy another club had been started in Bari, where the general amenities were poor. As it happened the Division itself never again came within reach of the club; but it was invaluable for convalescents from hospital in Bari and for the troops at Advanced Base. This last unit was at first in an entirely tented camp; but as time went on some hutments, both of wood and stone, were built. The camp was added to and improved during the time we were in Italy; but while it became comfortable enough, it was isolated and never approached the standards of Maadi. It was also too far back.
Our degree of self-containment was steadily increasing. By the time we reached Italy we had started our own ordnance depots, which dealt with the larger British depots and then distributed the stores to our own units.
In our early talks with GHQ CMF we made it clear that our reinforcements were solely for the support of 2 NZEF, and that we could not help by forming any GHQ units. Such an attitude may appear selfish, and probably was so viewed by GHQ; but we pointed out that we maintained a fighting formation stronger than any British equivalent, and, moreover, looked after ourselves and did not need to draw on the services of British depots to the same extent as did British divisions. At later stages we did form several new units to cope with new developments, and to support the claim that we looked after our own people. Such were units for the concentration of graves, for the reception and interrogation of escaped prisoners of war, and for the screening of claims made by Greeks and Italians for help given to Allied troops during the German occupation. Moreover, as our line of communications lengthened – ending at Trieste – we had to form additional intermediate links to help with such things as medical treatment and reinforcements. So one way and another we thought we were not doing so badly.
It must be said that the organisation and maintenance of the Allied armies in Italy was better than in North Africa – after all, page 72 we were all learning – and there never seemed to be the same call for special units.
We then ran into troubles over our communications with Egypt, the existing British signals link being too slow for our impatient methods. An application was made for a separate wireless channel for 2 NZEF purposes alone. There was strong resistance to this from GHQ for many obvious reasons; but in the end it gave in with as good a grace as possible, and we got our wavelength. We could then often get a reply from Maadi in an hour or so. There was by this time no doubt in anyone's mind – our own or GHQ's – that the administrative standards we expected were higher than those in the British service.
During January 1944 the long-delayed Wakatipu draft at last sailed for New Zealand. For the moment there was no word of any future draft; and the 4th Reinforcements, the members of which had seen as much fighting as had the first three echelons, were left in a somewhat unhappy state.
Headquarters 2 NZEF moved to Italy in late January and early February 1944. Even before it was settled in its new location the Division had moved across Italy from the east coast to an area in front of Cassino, lengthening its distance from Headquarters appreciably. The move had been secret. All vehicle signs had been painted out, cap and shoulder titles removed, and efforts made to conceal the fact that the New Zealand Division had moved. It was unfortunate, therefore, that a steady trickle of officers from rear 2 NZEF units – either from Headquarters or Advanced Base – came gaily driving up to the Division with vehicle signs and the words ‘New Zealand’ showing all over the place. The lesson was learnt, and when a move occurred again under similar conditions, rear echelons were warned and so shared in the attempt at concealment. The word ‘attempt’ is used advisedly, as it is doubtful if New Zealanders could be disguised merely by removing their badges and signs. There was always something about them that marked them out from other British troops.
This move meant that the distance from both Headquarters and Advanced Base to the Division was already too great for comfort. A reinforcement transit unit had to be formed and sited just behind the Cassino area. As the Division never again came any closer to Advanced Base, the Transit Unit became a permanency, a link which we had never had previously. Whereas in the summer of 1942 reinforcements had gone to units direct from Maadi Camp, they now went from Maadi to Advanced Base, thence to the Transit Unit, page 73 and only then to the Division. Distance made it necessary for troops to be brought under central control close behind the Division, before being sent on to units that might quite well have moved while the reinforcements were coming forward from Advanced Base.
In January 1944 we formed the Education and Rehabilitation Service (ERS), intended initially to help men who were on the New Zealand roll, i.e., who for any reason were going back to New Zealand. The majority on the roll were of course going back for medical reasons, and a good number were hospital cases. The ERS spent some time investigating the whole problem in 2 NZEF, and was not functioning to any degree until later in the year. It is discussed further in Chapter 16; but it is right to say here that we had been much criticised in New Zealand for not having had such a service before.
The eternal marriage question led to a minor crisis in January 1944, when the Government showed signs of weakening over a proposed marriage to an Armenian woman – a type of marriage to which previously it had been rigorously opposed. There was an exchange of cables almost heated in tone; and then the case collapsed when the intended bridegroom decided not to go on with his application.
About this time fresh instructions were sent to Maadi Camp regarding the procedure to be followed with men of low medical category, the intention being that unless a man could be usefully employed he was to be sent back to New Zealand. Perpetual cookhouse fatigue was not looked on as useful employment. It had already been agreed with New Zealand that men who had been primary producers in peacetime should be sent back as soon as they ceased to be fit for field service, and should not be retained for service at the base.
In March 1944 Headquarters agreed to the formation of a Graves Concentration Unit, to work within the general Allied framework. For over two years we had had a Registration and Inquiry Unit, the task of which was to locate and register definitely the graves of those who had been buried during fighting, more often than not in individual sites. The new Concentration Unit would now lift the bodies and concentrate them into approved cemetery sites, where wooden crosses or other temporary religious symbols would be erected also. At the end of the war further action would become the responsibility of the Imperial War Graves Commission. At the date we have now reached – March 1944 – the time had come to con- page 74 centrate graves in the long desert area from Egypt to Tunis, and the new unit started work there.
The alleged sins of the Division caught up with us during April, when General Headquarters, Middle East, forwarded a claim for deficiencies in tentage and other stores in the training area occupied by the Division in the desert west of Alexandria in September 1943. The accusation was that the Division had walked off with the articles, instead of leaving them in situ. The accusation was probably true; but after an exchange of notes HQ 2 NZEF suggested that as the stores were in any case being used for the better prosecution of the war, and as the war was still going on, the matter might be allowed to drop – and dropped it was.
In late March the director of the ERS submitted his proposals for future action. A controlling committee was then formed, including representatives of such interested bodies as medical, chaplains and welfare, together with one or two officers selected for their special knowledge of the problem. The committee met for the first time at the end of March.
During March the Military Liaison Officer in London wrote to Headquarters about the provision of staff for prisoner-of-war repatriation units in England. One of the results of the invasion of Europe, whenever it took place, would be at some point the release of large numbers of prisoners of war, including many thousands of New Zealanders. The intention was that these men would be moved to England, where it was desirable that they should be met by special New Zealand units. Other than a small number of men to be drawn from New Zealand air force personnel in England, the liaison officer had no men available, and quite properly asked 2 NZEF what it could do to help – with the approval of the Government. Here was a case where we could not refuse, but we made it a condition that the personnel would only be supplied when the Division was out of the line in a rest area; for willing though we might be, our numbers were not as great as all that, and we did not want to disturb fighting units during an active period. The numbers asked for ran to over 800 all told, so were not negligible. In the months following the request we drew up suitable war establishments and began to select suitable officers and men.
Now that the Expeditionary Force was in the main on the continent of Europe, it began to dawn on a lot of people that England was only a thousand miles or so away. There began a steady trickle of applications to go to England either when furlough became due or at the end of hostilities. As time went on the trickle increased, until at the end of the war it was almost a flood. For the moment nothing could be done except to recognise that a new problem was looming up.page 75
The lengthening of the line of communication meant that at any one time some member of the staff of HQ 2 NZEF was in the air on his way to or from Egypt, or in a car on his way up and down Italy. Visits from someone at Headquarters were always advisable to prevent the belief arising that any one part had been forgotten. Odd units, particularly, appreciated a visit from someone in authority.
The 21st April 1944 was a red-letter day in the life of HQ 2 NZEF, for on that day there arrived from New Zealand the first contingent of women clerical staff, all properly trained shorthand-typists. The number sent out from New Zealand was only 20, and Headquarters took the greater part, leaving a few at Maadi. Their arrival was a godsend. For the first time in four years correspondence could be dealt with smoothly; and to those officers concerned with matters of policy and so compelled to produce directives, the relief of having someone who could take down and quickly type drafts prior to production of the final text was immense. Their presence caused a breath of fresh air to blow through the corridors of Headquarters.
During the months from the end of January until May, the Division remained in the area in front of Cassino, and no changes in lines of communication were called for. Losses had been heavy, but not comparable to those of past campaigns. From the purely statistical standpoint, the reduction in the number of prisoners of war was all to the good, as over half the wounded came back to duty in due course, whereas a prisoner was a complete loss.
During May we appointed our own press censor, to work within the Allied framework but specifically for New Zealand messages. Prior to this appointment there had been many misunderstandings, often due to a simple thing like ignorance of New Zealand geography. The New Zealand censor was first and foremost a censor, and was not appointed to force messages through over the head of the Chief Censor; but he did prevent misunderstandings and helped our messages to pass more quickly.
About this time Headquarters had to take up with the New Zealand Government the question of advertising vacancies for civilian appointments in New Zealand. An increasing number of cables was reaching us from Army Headquarters saying that such and such a local body or business firm had a vacancy for some appointment and wished this to be made known to any interested persons within the force. Headquarters had to lay down that the exigencies of the service came first, and that an applicant could not be released prior to going on furlough in the normal course. The position otherwise would have become impossible, as there would have been a measure of disintegration in the force. In cases where page 76 personnel applied and were successful, it is believed that positions were kept open for them until they came back to take them up.
During early April there was an exchange of cables with the Government concerning the future of the Division, from which we were interested to see that the question was being considered on the highest levels, including the United States Government as well as the United Kingdom Government. An interim decision was taken to delay withdrawing the Division until after the fall of Rome, when the matter would be considered again. We were told also that the Prime Minister would be visiting us towards the end of May.
Censorship reports showed at almost any time a degree of cynical comment by the troops about the Government in New Zealand, and indeed about all activities in the homeland. At this point (May 1944) the comments were if anything more marked than normal, so that the imminent arrival of the Prime Minister became a cause for concern, for there seemed a likelihood that he might be involved in some unpleasantness. The GOC in the Division, and OICA for other units, had to speak discreetly to COs and ask them to explain to the men that Mr Fraser was after all the Prime Minister of the country and deserved a welcome and a courteous hearing, no matter what a man might think. During the visit there were one or two minor cases of discourtesy, but nothing in any way resembling concerted action.
The Prime Minister arrived at Naples on 26 May and went straight to the Division, which was in the line to the north of Cassino, a part of the front not as active as that farther south. He saw most of the units, his visit to the Maori Battalion just coinciding with the resumption of the offensive. From the Division the Prime Minister visited units in the south of Italy, including HQ 2 NZEF, and left for Egypt on 4 June. There he saw Maadi Camp again, together with odd units outside the camp. His original intention had been to go back to England from Egypt; but the Commander-in-Chief in Italy (General Sir Harold Alexander) had invited him to visit Rome if it should be captured at an early date. It was entered on 4 June; so the Prime Minister came back to Italy for twenty-four hours, arriving at Naples in the morning of 8 June and reaching Rome in the evening after a memorable drive along roads packed with advancing traffic. He left for England again on the morning of 9 June.
On this visit there were two subjects of the first order to discuss: the intentions about the furlough scheme and about the future of the Expeditionary Force. The two things were related, for if the force was to be withdrawn the furlough scheme did not matter; but if the force was to stay, or if there was going to be a delay in coming to a decision, the scheme must go on and the 4th Reinforce- page 77 ments must be relieved. It was in fact decided during the visit that the furlough scheme was to be taken this further stage; but the idea of ‘furlough’ was quietly abandoned and that of ‘permanent relief’ took its place. As soon as the Prime Minister had left, the machinery was set in motion to withdraw part of the 4th Reinforcements and to get them away to New Zealand. They left in the middle of September, followed by others in December, intervals which were longer than we would have liked, but which were governed by the availability of shipping.
During his visit the Prime Minister talked to a fair cross-section of the force, and so gathered an opinion on such things as their morale and their views about the future. The disposal of the force continued to be discussed among the Governments for some months after the Prime Minister's visit, and was not settled finally until the middle of September. Not for the first time the Government took a truly broad view and decided that the Division was to remain until the end of the war in Italy. The Division in the Pacific, the 3rd, was to be broken up to provide reinforcements for the Mediterranean.
June 1944 saw the opening of our third club in one of the larger hotels in Rome. Like all our clubs, it was open to all ranks. Unfortunately, for some time after its opening there was a strict order from Allied Headquarters against troops staying in Rome overnight, so that men had to live in a camp outside the city and come in during the day. This restriction was not lifted until December 1944. The club added to the natural amenities of Rome to a degree which the troops appreciated enormously.
The air link to New Zealand was further improved during June as the air letter service was restored.
Headgear during the war had gone through many phases. Now at last we reached the end with the general adoption of the beret. The New Zealand badge was worn on the beret against a background of a black diamond, this latter sign having been the one used by the Division to mark its axis of advance since the early days in North Africa.
Towards the end of July the advance of the Allied armies which had landed in France in June became faster and indeed spectacular, for the enemy's defences appeared to be cracking. There was even a chance that Germany would collapse before the end of the year. We ought not to have been surprised, therefore, when we received from the liaison officer in London an urgent request for the early despatch of the personnel for the prisoner-of-war reception camps. It was suggested that they should arrive in England at the latest by early September, which meant that we would have to start assembling them at once. Headquarters did point out rather plaint- page 78 ively that the conditions under which we had agreed to supply the personnel were not being fulfilled, in that the Division was very much in action; but of course the request was one that could not be refused, and steps were taken to release at least an advance party. In the end we did all that we were asked, including sending parties of welfare personnel, both women and men, to help start a club in London.
Advanced Base by now had become well established. So, despite previous decisions, one or two depots closed down in Maadi and reopened at Advanced Base. There was a saving in manpower thereby. In general, however, there was from now on a steady reduction in our training facilities, for drafts were becoming smaller and had in many cases already done long periods of training in New Zealand. In some cases men had had service in the Pacific too.
By this time the routine of administration throughout the long line of communications from Suez to the Division had settled down into a steady rhythm. It appeared to us that fresh problems were not occurring as frequently as in the past; but perhaps this was due to the fact that we were better at handling them.